Police in Jackson, Miss., were reeling Friday from the killing of a decorated homicide detective inside the police department’s headquarters as he was interviewing a suspect in a recent killing.
Authorities said Det. Eric Smith, a tall, fit investigator who had been with the department since 1995, was gunned down inside an interview room late Thursday afternoon as he was questioning the 23-year-old murder suspect, Jeremy Powell.
Officers heard several gunshots, and when they went to the room, found both Smith — a married father — and Powell dead of multiple gunshot wounds, police said.
Police in Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, were clearly shaken by the killing of one of their own inside a high-security building where officers and residents alike expect to be safe. But police did not release any details on the sequence of what happened, and said the case has been turned over to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which is standard procedure in such cases.
City officials asked the public for patience as investigators sort out what happened.
“This is a very tragic situation,” Jackson city spokesman Chris Mims said. “The entire city of Jackson and the Jackson Police Department family are all hurting. We are asking for the public’s patience while we find out why this tragic incident happened and how it happened.”
The suspect was being questioned on the third floor of the police headquarters building when the shooting happened, Police Chief Rebecca Coleman said.
Police said in a news release that Powell was in the process of being arrested in the killing Monday of Christopher Alexander. News outlets reported that the 20-year-old Alexander’s body was found Monday near a Jackson street and he had been stabbed in the neck.
Mims described the 40-year-old Smith, who was assigned to the Robbery-Homicide Division, as “a decorated detective and well-respected law-enforcement person throughout the state of Mississippi.”
“He was in the processing of questioning that suspect,” Mims said of the detective. “Other officers in the police department heard gunshots ring out and when they went to the interview room, discovered that both the suspect and the detective were deceased.”
The police headquarters was on lockdown Thursday night, Mims said.
Jackson City Councilman Chokwe Lumumba was in police headquarters with the mayor later and said Smith was shot by the suspect. He did not know how the suspect ended up dead.
“I understand there may have been more than one police officer in the room,” Lumumba said outside the police building.
The headquarters was blocked off and surrounded by crime tape. Law enforcement and Jackson city officials rushed to the scene.
At least 30 Jackson Police and Hines County Sheriff’s office vehicles were haphazardly parked across multiple, major downtown Jackson streets Thursday evening. Officers were visibly shaken, wiping their eyes, and Assistant Chief Lee Vance could be seen comforting Chief Rebecca Coleman at one point, putting his arm around her shoulder outside the building. A 2008 photo on the department’s website shows Smith, in a shirt and tie, accepting a certificate of commendation on behalf of a detective, with Coleman and Vance on each side of him.
Lumumba, who is a lawyer, said he first met Smith in the late 1990s. The then-officer had testified on some of Lumumba’s cases.
“I had great respect for his work and his integrity,” Lumumba said. He added that Smith’s stepson had played basketball on an Amateur Athletic Union team that Lumumba worked with.
“Eric helped take young men all over the country,” the councilman said. “He’s a real man in every sense of the word.”
Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr. also addressed the officer’s death.
“Detective Smith was an excellent officer in all respects,” the mayor said. “I want everyone to keep the Smith family in their prayers and in their thoughts.”